It’s been twelve seasons since the Oil Kings returned to Edmonton and in that time they’ve made the playoffs seven times, won their division three times, made three WHL finals, captured the Ed Chynoweth Cup twice (2012 & 2014), and ultimately took home The Memorial Cup in 2014.
That’s a pretty impressive resumè and we’ve seen some very good junior hockey teams in Edmonton over the last decade plus but none of those teams had ever won four straight games to start the season, never mind five.
Before this season started, this group wasn’t exactly supposed to be one that would make history, but that’s what they did. Now, six games into the season they are 5-1-0 and were recently ranked #5 amongst CHL teams.
“It’s a credit to our guys. They ’ve been doing all the work and they understand what we’re trying to accomplish”, said Head Coach Brad Lauer after the team set the franchise record for consecutive wins to start a season.
Despite their strong start, some are still pessimistic about this team, pointing to the fact that they’ve haven’t played the toughest of competition yet. While they did beat up on a Swift Current team that won’t come anywhere near the playoffs this year and the Calgary Hitmen still don’t have a win, the Oil Kings have been competitive no matter who their opponent is.
They’ve handed the Red Deer Rebels their only two losses of the season and there come from behind win over Medicine Hat was incredibly impressive. They battled back from being down 2-0 with under ten minutes to go in the second period and held on for a 3-2 regulation victory, last season that’s a game where Edmonton probably collapses and ends up losing 5-1.
Even in the game they lost, a 5-3 decision to the Saskatoon Blades on Wednesday night, they never stopped battling despite a slow start that saw them go down by three goals. Saskatoon is a very strong team and Edmonton dominated stretches of the game. It’s worth noting that the Blades were a pretty tired group, but I still think this young Oil Kings team deserves some credit for not just rolling over and dying.
An impressive start to the season for the Oil Kings who now face an incredibly tough task as they hit the road for their first extended road trip of the season.
LONG ROAD AHEAD
Over the next eight days, the Oil Kings will stop in six different cities for six games and even cross the border to take on a handful of American opponents.
Five of the six teams that the Oil Kings will visit are currently .500 or better on the season. The team is playing fantastic hockey right now, so I’m personally not concerned about their ability to go into some tough rinks and be competitive.
In fact, I actually think this road trip couldn’t have come at a better time. Confidence is high in the room right now and after speaking to some players on the team, I think a long road trip could be a great bonding experience for this group, as bus trips usually are in junior hockey.
“It’s good to get to know the guys and you get to see a different side of them when you’re around the hotel”, said Captain Trey Fix-Wolansky, “getting to know everyone’s personality a little more will be huge for our team and our success”.
First up on the road trip begins tonight in Kootenay as the Oil Kings will take on the Ice. The trip will conclude on October 13th with a game against the Seattle Thunderbirds.
NEIGHBOURS SETTLING IN
Expectations were high for rookie forward Jake Neighbours. The Oil Kings used their 4th overall pick in the 2017 Bantam Draft on the Airdrie product. He suited up in 11 games at the end of last season, he was primed to play a full season in Edmonton this year.
During the preseason, I thought Neighbours was one of their best forwards, but in the first few regular season games, I didn’t notice him as much. He was playing lower in the lineup, and despite getting powerplay minutes, he wasn’t generating a ton of offense.
That changed during the teams fourth game of the season in Calgary when Neighbours, in front of lots of family and friends, scored his first career WHL goal.
“I had lots of people watching me there so it was a good feeling to get my first (goal)”, said Neighbours when asked about the goal, “I kind of just threw it on net, and it was a lucky bounce, but I guess that’s what it takes to get the first one sometimes”.
When the puck is on his stick, you can’t deny that he has exceptional talent and for a 16-year-old, he isn’t afraid to use his size and take a run at a player that’s two or three years older than him. He has all the characteristics of a future WHL all-star.
He’s also been very moved around the Oil Kings lineup quite a bit during the start of the season, something Head Coach Brad Lauer finds value in.
“We’ve moved him around the lineup a little bit and he’s adjusted quite well. For a 16-year-old he’s mature and has a big body,” said Lauer, “He’ll battle in front of the net and along the boards. His game will get better as he plays more and more”.
The ceiling is high for Neighbours, and the potential is clearly there, as the season continues I expect we will slowly start to see him take over games and by the end of the year, I think it could be a regular occurrence.